PHILADELPHIA – Before Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doug Collins stressed points in the paint as one of the biggest keys.
Then his team proceeded to outscore the Boston Celtics 42-16 in the paint, forcing Game 7 with a 82-75 victory.
This was an ugly game through and through. But the Sixers finally broke through offensively in the third quarter, largely because their guards were repeatedly able to get into the paint. And you had to wonder if things would have been different if the Celtics had Avery Bradley.
The second-year guard, who had made life tough for the Philly guards in the first four games, missed his second straight game with a pair of shoulder injuries. The Sixers’ Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner and Lou Williams took advantage.
PHILADELPHIA – It’s not clear if Brian Scalabrine is ready to retire yet, but he’s already in preparation for his next career.
Comcast SportsNet New England, which broadcasts Celtics games, hired Scalabrine to provide pre-and postgame analysis during the Celtics-Sixers series. So, there he was, in a suit at TD Garden on Saturday, talking about the Sixers just 48 hours after Philly had eliminated his own Chicago Bulls.
The former Celtic got a huge ovation from the Garden crowd when he was shown on the Jumbotron on Saturday. But Scalabrine’s finest moment of this postseason came after Game 3, when he asked Rajon Rondo one of the smarter questions you’ll ever hear in a postgame press conference.
“The adjustment on the side pick and roll,” Scalabrine said, “you guys went to the ‘ice’ or the ‘down,’ or whatever you guys use in your terminology. Do you like that better than going over the top with the ‘show’?”
“I like it better,” Rondo replied. “I don’t think they do. Their offense, we watched the first couple of games, they got into the paint pretty good on the side pick and rolls. And it led to corner threes, it led to the high-low. I think we took a clip from you guys. You guys ‘iced’ a lot of the side pick and rolls in that series, and I think they struggled offensively. I think we did a good job tonight. The bigs did a great job talking, and guards kept fighting over, even when they did step up and set the side pick and roll.”
OK. So what the heck does it mean to “ice” a pick-and-roll?
BOSTON – The Sixers have been searching for a go-to guy since Allen Iverson was traded in 2006.
By default, Lou Williams has been the guy with the ball in his hands down the stretch for the last couple of years. But since he was drafted No. 2 in 2010, Evan Turner has been the man with the most potential to be that guy.
On Monday, at the end of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, Turner had his moment. With the Sixers down one and 45 seconds left in the game, the ball was in Turner’s hands. He was isolated on the left wing on Rajon Rondo, a scary and competent defender.
Turner was having an awful night. At that point, he was 3-for-10 with five turnovers. Sixers coach Doug Collins said afterward that Turner was “out of synch.”
But that didn’t matter as Turner drove into the paint and got around Rondo. Paul Pierce came to help, in position to take the charge. But Turner somehow avoided the contact, slipped to Pierce’s side, and put in an incredible scoop shot off the glass.
BOSTON – Before Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Saturday, Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers was asked to name the player on the Philadelphia 76ers that he doesn’t want to see with the ball in a late-game situation.
“Lou Williams,” Rivers replied. “Guys who can just make shots, no matter what defense you play, always scare you.”
A few hours later, the game was on the line and the ball was in Williams’ hands. And that turned out to be good news for the Celtics, because Williams was being defended by their resident ball hawk, Avery Bradley.
With the Sixers down two and 2:40 on the clock in the fourth quarter, Williams was isolated on Bradley and thought he could take him off the dribble. He was wrong.
Bradley got his hands on the ball, and it was going the other way.
Less than 30 seconds earlier, Williams looked to have a breakaway lay-up to put the Sixers up three. But Bradley denied him at the rim, a block that led to a quick Kevin Garnett basket on the other end of the floor, a basket that gave the Celtics the lead for good.
Final: Celtics 92, Sixers 91. Boston’s defense wasn’t at its best in Game 1, but Bradley came up with the timely stops to give his team the early series lead.
And with Bradley on his side, Rivers really shouldn’t be too afraid of Williams.
And the bearded one snagged this honor in a landslide, collecting 115 of a possible 119 first-place votes and 584 of a possible 595 points. Lou Williams of the Philadelphia 76ers finished second with 231 points and 2008-09 winner Jason Terry of the Dallas Mavericks finished third with 81 points.
Harden finished as the NBA’s top scoring reserve this season, averaging a career-best 16.8 points in just his third season in the league. He also averaged a career-highs with 4.1 rebounds, 3.7 assists field goal shooting (.491), 3-point shooting (.390), free throw shooting (.846) and minutes (31.4). Harden is the second youngest player to win the award and succeeds former Lakers’ swing man Lamar Odom in being recognized as the top reserve in the league.
Thunder general manager Sam Presti praised Harden’s maturity and sacrifice while making it clear that the award is as much about his statistics and contributions to the Thunder as it is about his character, determination and tireless work ethic.
Word spread in advance of this afternoon’s official announcement. The charismatic Harden even took to Twitter to thank his followers. “Thanks to everyone!! I appreciate all the love. 6th Man of the Year.”
Harden beat himself up a bit during the ceremony, admitting that he struggled with his reserve role after starring at Arizona State and being the third overall pick in the 2009 Draft.
But Thunder coach Scott Brooks disagreed.
“James is being hard on himself,” Brooks said. “He did get it as a rookie. He averaged 10 points a game as a rookie on a team that won 50 games. I had a chance to see him as a rookie at 19 years old and three years later he’s a man. He’s improved in every aspect. I had a conversation with hims last year a month after the season, we sat down for lunch and I wanted to get his thoughts going into the summer and asked him what his goals were, thinking he wanted to start. And all he said was,’ Coach, I just want to do whatever the team needs to help us get better.’ I knew right then he understood his role. And he’s really our sixth starter. Like Sam said, it’s not common to accept that role as such a young player.”
Harden had one of his best games of the season in Game 4 of the Thunder’s first round sweep of Terry and the defending champion Mavericks. He took over the game, scoring 15 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter, including seven in a row and nine in the Thunder’s 12-0 run after they trailed by 13 points with 9:44 left.
Harden and the Thunder await the winner of the Lakers-Nuggets series in the Western Conference semifinals.
HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – For NBA fans, there’s nothing better than League Pass. Having the ability to watch every game every night (and then again the next day) is heaven.
Of course, with local broadcasts, you get local broadcasters, which can be good and bad. It can be good, because these guys know their teams better than most national broadcasters. It can be bad, because these guys love their teams more than most national broadcasters. And they’re usually not afraid to show that love.
This season, we’re highlighting the good, the bad and the ugly of League Pass here on the Hang Time Blog. So here are a few things from the last few weeks that made us laugh, made us smarter, or made us shake our heads.
HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Philadelphia 76ers are a weird team.
Their leading scorer comes off the bench and they have seven players averaging at least nine points per game. They have the lowest turnover ratio in NBA history and the second-lowest free throw rate of the last 20 years.
What’s craziest is that the Sixers have the league’s fifth-best point differential and only the 15th-best record, thanks to a 24-9 record in games decided by double-digits and a 5-16 record in games decided by single-digits. They win the blowouts and they lose the close games. So either their record is worse than it should be or their point differential is better than it should be.
The Sixers, of course, got off to a terrific start this season, winning 20 of their 29 games before Valentine’s Day. But since then, they’ve gone 9-16, struggling at first to hold onto the Atlantic Division lead and now, maybe to hold onto a playoff spot.
Since around early March, guys on the team have struggled with Doug Collins’ coaching style. Look, we all knew at the beginning of last year, when Collins took over this young team, that he had a history of turning around young squads. And we also knew that he had (sometimes as early as the second season) a history of over-coaching, at which point his players tend to become frustrated and tune him out. The Sixers have been struggling with this for at least a month, if not longer. This has led to heated interactions, sometimes even in the middle of games. On more than one occasion, players have let Collins know — during a game — that they’re sick of the relentless nitpicking. This incessant nagging (or even the perception of it) leads to fractured relationships. The Sixers have reached the point where, at least some of them, have addressed this issue with Collins. Has it reached the point of tuning him out? At times. Collins has made an effort to try to step back, but he’s only occasionally successful. It’s been day to day.
The numbers don’t point to effort being the problem. The Sixers still have the No. 1 defense in the league and the No. 2 defense since the All-Star break, though their D was pretty terrible in Wednesday’s inexplicable loss to the Raptors.
On the other end of the floor is where the Sixers’ issues really lie. They had the sixth-best offense in the league when they were 20-9 on Valentine’s day. Since then, only the Celtics and Bobcats have been worse offensively. (more…)
Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
At the season’s halfway point (roughly), give me your Sixth Man, Coach and MVP of the first half. (In that order. And expound a little.)
Steve Aschburner: James Harden is my Sixth Man halfway through, same as he was before this thing began. His team is winning, he’s playing well and he isn’t starting – done! I’m going with Philadelphia’s Doug Collins over San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich for COY because Collins has gotten the Sixers to buy in even though they’re young, rely on defense and don’t line up behind any superstars to get their results. My first-half MVP is Miami’s LeBron James, whose all-around game and killer efficiency gives him the separation from Dwyane Wade that conventional wisdom said would make it tough for either of them to win this award while teammates.
Fran Blinebury: Sixth man: James Harden. The Thunder have the best record in the league and his numbers across the board are a career-best. Coach: Doug Collins. Recent stumble notwithstanding, nobody expected this. MVP: LeBron James. It shouldn’t be debatable.
Scott Howard-Cooper:James Harden, a scorer and a playmaker and an important reason the Thunder has set the pace in the West the entire season. Coach: Gregg Popovich in a close call over Doug Collins, just because it would &!#% off Popovich to have to go to center court to accept the award. OK, and because the Spurs remain near the top of the conference despite meshing youth with experience while overcoming the Manu Ginobili injury. MVP: LeBron James, the best player on the best team, or on any team. (more…)
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – You didn’t really think we’d be able to wait until Thursday did you?
The ballots are due this afternoon for the coach’s selections for reserves for the Eastern and Western All-Star reserves. No one asked for our picks, but we’re providing them anyway.
Just in case some of the coaches need a helping hand in making their selections, we figured we’d get these out there this morning so they don’t have any excuses for botching these picks.
Our hard and fast rule of rewarding stellar seasons by players on the best teams (to this point in the season) had to be rearranged a bit this time around, blame it on the compressed schedule (everyone is blaming everything on it anyway). We stepped outside of our comfort zone a bit. And as important as it is for everyone that votes to get the starters right, it’s even more important that the coaches get the reserves absolutely right.
A little help for any of them feeling the pressure (and before you go crazy about it, we took a few liberties with the strict position designations to put our own stamp on this list):
*** The All-Star reserves will officially be announced Thursday night on TNT ***
The way Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau leans on Deng makes it hard for us to ignore him when it comes time to handing out these bids. His value to this Bulls team goes beyond just the numbers. The fact that he’s suffered from the injury means little here. He earned his way here last season but was snubbed. Not this time around. Derrick Rose doesn’t do all the heavy lifting.
Losing Al Horford for the season with a torn pectoral muscle forced Smith to readjust his game and take on some different responsibilities. Smith and Joe Johnson helped keep the Hawks among the East’s best in the aftermath of that news. Smith’s ability on both ends gives him an edge.
Third wheel? So what. Bosh has played great under the circumstances. When Dwyane Wade was out with an injury Bosh stepped his game up dramatically, same as LeBron James. Statistically, he’s not in the same league as the Chris Bosh we were used to seeing in Toronto. But who cares. He’s been a consistent force for the Heat all season.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – He could have turned the locker room upside down, made a mess of the team’s chemistry and pouted his way out of town if he wanted to.
All of those options were available to Clippers guard Mo Williams when the Chris Paul trade went down. It soon became clear that his time as the Clippers’ starting point guard would be limited to the 22 games he got last season and whatever injury replacement starts he might get with Paul in the fold this season.
To his credit, Williams, who arrived in L.A. via a deadline-day trade with Cleveland last season, has done exactly what he’s always done: put his head down and go to work without so much as a shoulder shrug while handling himself like a true pro.
He’s been on a tear of late, averaging 22.2 points on 56 percent shooting from the floor and an outlandish 54 percent from beyond the 3-point line in the Clippers’ last five games. He’s scored 26, 25, 26, 16 and 18 points in those five games, the first three when the Clippers had to play without Paul (strained hamstring).
Keep this up and he’ll make the voting for the Sixth Man Award an all Williams affair. Philadelphia’s Lou Williams is our early frontrunner here at the hideout.